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Reviews For Up Where They Belong
Lyra, I LOVED this. I would have loved to have had this ten years ago, when the major battles against slash were being waged, but seeing all the pieces of evidence in favor of admitting at least the possibility of Mae/Fin, all in one place, exhaustively referenced, is like getting a big gift-wrapped present when I least expected it. It is coherent, compelling, and engaging, pulling in such a variety of sources that it is hard to argue that your thesis isn't at least a possibility without resorting to 1) personal preference for this "pure"* world canatics imagined JRRT having created or 2) homophobia (which often, in my experience, walked hand-in-hand with #1 since excluding homosexuality from a "pure" or "beautiful" world is itself homophobic).
*Because, as you point out, these same canatics never demand the same "purity" when it comes to anything but sex: Genocide is fine, torture, betrayal, murder, human sacrifice ... but the idea that anything but hetero-married-sex-with-the-intention-of-children is beyond the pale? Come on!
I have to say that my favorite part was all of the biographical material you pulled in, including from JRRT's associates, to establish that this idea that homosexuality was either unknown or totally verboten in JRRT's world is itself a misunderstanding. The canon sources, by now, I know inside out, but a lot of this material was new to me.
Also, re: Maedhros appearing not to be wed ... I've always found JRRT's inclusion of that particular word to be suspect in itself. We know that he chose his words carefully. So why "appear"? Either he was wed or he was not, right? Why did he see a need to create ambiguity here?
In short, this is a compelling synthesis, and I'm thrilled to have it to link to as a shorthand for this argument that has been waging in fandom for so many years now. (In fact, I'm pondering my own essay about the unusual bias the Silm narrator shows toward Fingon for MPTT's annual nonfiction challenge, and addressing some of the canon about his closeness to Maedhros was on my plate, and I'm glad to have this piece to link to for a fuller discussion of the issue.) Thank you for having the courage to write and share it!
Author's Response: I wish I'd had the nerve to write this ten years ago, because it would certainly have been useful. But in truth, many of the pieces only came together by and by, as I stumbled over them while reading up on something else entirely. So I guess all this time had to pass to allow this essay to be "coherent, compelling, and [...] pulling in such a variety of sources" (you make me blush!). But yes, I definitely would have loved to have had this ten years ago, too. Where's my time machine?
Indeed, whether or not I'm ultimately on the right track, a lot of the counter-arguments purely come from a strange understanding of "purity", or plain old homophobia (disguised as "being faithful to canon" or the like), so I'm glad you think I've dismantled these points. The biographical material was actually the reason why I didn't write this ramble/essay much earlier, and I'm glad you found it compelling. (The mythological material was provided by Elleth, who actually had a dream to that effect a few years back but didn't want to write the essay, and kindly yielded her rights to me. That is, I had obviously noticed the Promethean parallels before, but - having studied modern languages and only taken Latin in high school - didn't know that Prometheus was linked to homosexuality until she - having studied classical archaeology - pointed it out. So that was another puzzle piece discovered by chance. Still I was uncertain what to do with it until I came across gwegwin in Darth Fingon's essay, and then things began to fall into place!)
Maedhros appearing to be unwed - I only noticed the suspicious wording after I'd posted this thing, or I would have remarked on it also. I'm glad that you as a native speaker find it remarkable as well! It does have a whiff of "As a matter of fact he is wed, but not in the official way" to it, doesn't it! Yet another lead, and I wish I'd picked up on it earlier. (I also wish I could have worked Tar-Telperien's decidedly Sapphic lifestyle into this, but I didn't see a good way. I suppose that will have to be written separately. By Someone (TM).)
I'm thrilled that you think it may be useful for future projects of yours (or simply for the same old discussions, since they seem to recur). I don't think that I have shown much courage, since I've chosen pretty much the safest of places for sharing it (so far). Maybe I'll trust it a bit more and share it more widely now that reliable essay writers appear to find it reasonably sound. So, thank you very much for your comment!
Great stuff! I recall being surprised when I first discovered that Tolkien was very fond of Mary Renault. I can see why that would be. She uses language very carefully and with complicated justifications for particular vocabulary choices. She also, particularly in the Greek novels, with an elevated gravitas of tone, which has the ability to instill in the reader a sense of presence in another time and place that I presume Tolkien would admire. The Athens of Last of the Wine is my canon Athens now. (Although it is not 100% accurate--she captures a world in its particulars. She transports one to a precise time and location in a not dissimilar manner to the way in which Tolkien takes one to Middle-earth. Her world is real, vibrant, pulsing with life. And we believe in it.) But, hey, Renault may not write graphic sex scenes, but she makes it very clear that boys are boinking boys and girls are boinking girls and every other possible variation of the above. And Tolkien admired her work.
Anyway, I do love your look at Maedhros and Fingon. It is a very particular friendship within the context of his canon (always felt more romantic and fraught to me even than Beren and Luthien, but then I am wierd) and it sweeps the reader up into an incredible pitch of emotion and partisanship relating to the outcome--from Maedhros standing aside when Feanor orders the ships burned to when Fingon heard Maedhros respond to his song at Thangorodhrim. Nothing about the way that Tolkien writes Fingon and Maedhros allows me to believe that he was not backing a horse in that race. Tolkien ships Fingon and Maedhros, but he leaves it deniable. (I hate it when writers do that!)
Sigh! I do like your arguments and agree with them. Some are new to me and others I've considered a lot. But the virtue of this essay is that you bring all of this material together beautifully and ask the reader to consider it with a clear eye and an open mind. That needed to be done.
Thanks for the lovely contribution!!
Author's Response: Yes, precisely. Said that getting a note from her was his favourite piece of "fan mail" and everything. So yes, he really liked her writing - something that features gay-in-every-sense-of-the-word folks (not explicit in the sense of graphic, but in the sense of everybody knows they're guys who do guys or girls who do girls). So that's that.
I'm absolutely thrilled that you enjoyed this thing. As you know, I was terrified that it would fall apart once someone with a thorough knowledge of the HoME and the Letters would look at it, so getting praise from you is extremely reassuring. Glad also that some arguments were new to you! Most of them are very old, of course, but perhaps they needed to be listed in one place. ;)
Well, to be fair, I find it unrealistic when people (above all, the canatics themselves) expect Tolkien to have just come out and say something along the lines of "Maedhros was a big flaming gay, pun fully intended, so nyah". I mean, he uses terms like "union of love" when talking about heterosexual sex. And when Morgoth thinks about what to do with L˙thien after her sudden appearance in his halls, he's all "flowers like you can be kissed and later tossed aside". The super-villain! I ask you! XD So of course he would be ~subtle~ about it.
So for my part, I'm just happy that he leaves it deniable, but doesn't deny it. Good enough for me (and for his time and age), really! I mean, think of the backlash that J.K. Rowling got when she announced that Dumbledore was gay all along. And that was the 21st century!
Anyway! I'm so glad that you agree and liked the essay. Thank you for your thoughts and encouragement!